NCsoft official disputes claim by Garriott as trial begins
In lawsuit, game designer says he was fired, lost $47 million in premature stock option sale
The trial pitting famous game designer Richard Garriott against his former employer got under way Monday, as lawyers sparred over whether Garriott was fired from his job in 2008.
Garriott is suing NCsoft Corp., claiming that the company mischaracterized his departure as voluntary, which forced him to prematurely exercise his stock options, ultimately costing him $47 million, his attorneys said.
“Richard Garriott needs your help to be made whole for that loss,” his attorney Stephen Fox told a jury in U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks’ court.
But an NCsoft attorney responded that Garriott voluntarily resigned, and it was his decision to sell the stock options at a relatively low price.
“This is a case about … a person who’s wanting to rewrite history,” Laura Merritt, attorney for the South Korean gaming company, said.
Merritt said that Garriott still made millions in profit from selling his options, and accused him of wanting even more money to fund a lavish lifestyle.
Under Garriott’s contract, a voluntary departure meant he had to exercise his tens of millions of stock options within 90 days. He would have had 2½ years to exercise the options after being fired.
At issue is a phone conversation Garriott had with Chris Chung, CEO of NCsoft’s North American operations, on Nov. 6, 2008. That was shortly after Garriott returned from a trip to the International Space Station aboard a Russian rocket.
Garriott’s attorneys said the trip was the culmination of a childhood dream and that Gar-
Continued from B riott used it to help promote “Tabula Rasa,” a space-themed game that Garriott developed with NCsoft. “Tabula Rasa” launched in late 2007, shortly before Garriott took a leave of absence to train for his space flight.
NCsoft’s attorneys said the company was forced to rush the game’s launch because of Garriott’s trip. “Tabula Rasa” ultimately flopped, which soured NCsoft executives’ opinion of Garriott, they said.
Garriott “walked away from his job at a time when his team back in Austin needed him the most and, not surprisingly, while he was gone and when he came back, his employer questioned his commitment to his job,” Merritt said.
Chung testified that he told Garriott on Nov. 6, 2008, that Garriott had done “grave harm” to the company because of his absence. But he denied firing Garriott, saying that he asked Garriott if he would consider “amicably” leaving the company.
Garriott’s attorneys said that Garriott worked hard to promote “Tabula Rasa” in connection with his space flight and had no intention of leaving the company on his return from space. Fox said that Garriott received CEO Taek Jin Kim’s blessing for the trip.
But before talking to Garriott about his future, company officials were planning to reorganize NCsoft’s North American operations, according to testimony, including shutting down “Tabula Rasa” and moving the North American headquarters from Austin to Seattle, company officials said.
Although Chung denied that NCsoft planned to fire Garriott, under questioning from Fox, he confirmed that he had testified in a deposition that Kim had instructed him to remove Garriott from the company.
But Chung backed away from that Monday, saying that Kim merely asked him to look at Garriott’s “status” with the company, and that removal was “among many options.”
Chung also said that only Kim had the authority to fire Garriott. “Did you fire (Garriott)?” Merritt asked. “No,” Chung responded.
Chris Chung Exec testifies that Garriott was asked if he would ‘amicably’ leave the company.
Richard Garriott says he had the blessing of NCsoft’s top executive to make his 200 trip to space.